Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bakertan's Maiden Mooncake Baking Lesson

Sorry folks, I have been rather tied up with project work lately. Hence, I will be blogging and baking at a slower pace. This post comes as a rather late one, especially when the Mid-Autumn Festival has passed by for more than a week.

This is my maiden attempt at making mooncakes. A few weeks before the Mid-Autumn Festival, I saw mooncake books lying around in Popular bookstore. The book covers caught my attention and the idea of making mooncakes immediately glued to my mind. Initially, I was all hyped up with enthusiasm. Little did I know that there were many underlying challenges behind the making of mooncakes. I shall share my mooncake making experience with greater details.

My pineapple tart kakis gathered at my place the day before Mid Autumn. We had planned to make both the traditional and snowskin mooncakes on the same day. Well, I guess we were too ambitious and things certainly did not turn out as planned.

Making the traditional mooncake pastry was pretty straight forward. But when it came to wrapping the dough over the fillings and moulding the mooncakes, we were in for some serious challenges. The recipe (from one of the mooncake books I caught hold from Popular) asked for 30g mooncake pastry skin and 140g lotus paste filling. The proportion of pastry was far too little to wrap around the fillings. We increased the amount to about 45g and it worked out to be much better. However, it takes a lot of skills to ensure the skin is evenly distributed around the filling. As shown in the picture above, some parts of the pastry skin were too thin and the lotus filling can be seen.

The first attempt to mould the mooncakes ended up in total disaster with a mooncake being stucked in the mould. I had to scrape the unbaked mooncake out but there were still lotus paste stuck in the carvings. As a result, I had to use a hose and spray at high pressure. Learning from this little nasty episode, we ensured that the mould and mooncakes were dusted generously with flour before we did the unmoulding. Thankfully, subsequent unmoulding of mooncakes turned out smoothly. We even found a way to get the unmould mooncakes without banging the wooden mould. Simply overturn the mould and start flicking the mooncake/s out. The air pressure will slowly release the mooncake/s.

As compared to the first few batches of mooncakes, the final batch browned to a nice golden colour (see picture above). However, it is still a far cry from the desired colour of a traditional mooncakes, which is that of a deep-brown tone (my mooncakes were quite pale).

Where traditional mooncakes are concerned, the type of golden syrup used is important. I used Lyle's golden syrup ( golden amber in colour) here instead of homemade golden syrup. When homemade golden syrup ages, it darkens to deep amber. Using aged homemade syrup would give mooncakes a much deeper brown skin tone. One would require advance planning when making homemade syrup as it takes a least 6 months for the syrup to age to a desirable colour. Another crucial element in getting the desirable skin tone would be the egg wash which contributes to a certain degree of browning of the mooncake skin.

mooncake with durian paste

Overall,  I felt it was more of a mooncake baking lesson which I have attended at home. There is still lots of room for improvement when it comes to me making mooncakes. After visiting blogs of fellow bake bloggers, I learnt that baked mooncakes should be left to sit for 3 days before consumption, something unheard of prior to this baking lesson. Allowing the mooncakes to sit for 3 days would allow the oil to seep out and the mooncakes will darken to a deeper shade of brown. Apart from that, the other advantage of letting the mooncakes sit over the 3-day period is to allow the skin to soften.

After making the traditional mooncakes, there were still some storebought lotus paste left. I will be attempting to make snowskin mooncakes with the rest of the paste. Wish me lots of luck on that...

Learning points for Bakertan in future mooncake making lessons:
1) Find a good balance between the ratio of the skin and filling.
2) Ensure that mooncake skin is uniform in thickness.
3) Dust mould genorously with flour when unmoulding mooncakes.
4) Prepare homemade golden syrup and allow sufficient time for it to age.
5) Add sugar/syrup to egg wash.
6) Allow mooncakes to sit for 3 days before consuming.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bakertan Botches Things Up - Nutella Cream Cake No.2

(pic taken by my friend's iphone)

If you have'nt realised, I am very much a cake person. Give me any cake and I would not say No. No is never an option, at least to me. The cakeboy in me was whining for a cake making session, and so I whipped up a Nutella Cream Cake for a friend's birthday just a couple of days ago. This was my second attempt on it and was eager to improve on it  further this time round. You can take a look at my first attempt over here - nutella cream cake.

Unfortunately at the very critical moment, Bakertan botches it all up. Arghhh!!! How unlucky could it get? Notice in the picture that the cream frosting is grainy? I will explain what happen exactly.

After I frosted the cake for the first time, I chucked it all into the freezer as the nutella cream was melting away fast, just like chocolate ice cream melting away on a hot sunny day. Well, I thought freezing it for 10 minutes or so would'nt hurt, and it would firm up the cream fast enough so that I can do some touchup to it. I probably forgotten all about my frosted nutella cream cake and I recieved a rude shock when I tried to smoothen the frosting when I retrieved my cake about 20 minutes later. The freezing must have 'shocked' the cream such that it went grainy. ( If the temperature in the refrigerator is too cold, plain whipping cream will separate when stored)

For a moment, I was disgusted and felt like dumping the whole mess into the bin. Ok, that is a sillly thought I admit. Anyway, I went ahead and tried to cover up the messy cake a little by coating the perimeter with chocolate rice. The cream was melting furiously as I was doing the coating, so I quickly wrapped up everything and chucked the cake into a cake box and off it went for refrigeration.


Despite the imperfection, the taste and texture of the cream was'nt compromised. It was still smooth and creamy. The cake layers were soft, moist and fluffy, all thanks to the recipe. This time round, I doubled the amount of nutella cream, hence the layers were more obvious. I felt sorry for the birthday boy though (being a little perfectionistic in baking, maybe I am a little too harsh on myself). Thankfully, he did not mind a bit and am glad he liked it.

When the cake cutting was over, I sat down to think and review the entire episode. Two ideas struck me. It would be a much better idea doing the frosting in a cake ring, since the cream melts easily. I will probably settle for the second idea which is a safer bet; frost the cake with chocolate buttercream instead and have no worries about it softening or melting at warm room temperature. If things goes well, I can even do practice with my piping. I shall get down to working on the chocolate buttercream cake (using the same chocolate sponge) some time soon. Wish me good luck...

Tips from nice, friendly and helpful fellow baker bloggers:
1) According to NEL from The Batter Baker, the water in the cream frosting frozed into ice crystals, hence separating from the fat/cream. Me and NEL think that gelatin would help stabilize the nutella cream and prevent it from melting as fast.  
2) Jess from Bakericious suggested chilling the cream every now and then when doing the frosting. (I was lazy to do that hence I committed the mistake of freezing the cream)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bakertan Cooks Dessert - Red Bean Soup

In Chinese context, desserts are usually served as wam soups, custards or pastes. The cantonese especially, loves to prepare what is known as Sweet Soups or Tong Sui (糖水). An example of a cantonese sweet soup is the Red Bean Soup.

As the name suggests, red bean soup uses adzuki beans which is commonly known as red beans to the chinese. The preparation of this sweet dessert soup is rather simple and does not require much effort, which suits newbie cooks like me perfectly.

The preparation process starts off with rinsing the dried adzuki beans in water and soaking them in water for 2 hours or overnight to soften them. After soaking, the beans will swell up. Next, simply add these beans into a pot filled with water. Drop in some chopped dried orange peel and a knot of pandan leaves (screwpine) and bring the mixture to a simmer. The orange peel will impart a nice citrusy flavour whereas the pandan leaves will bring out the aroma of the sweet soup. When the beans have softened and the soup becomes murky, add in rock sugar to taste and the sweet soup is ready to be served. Voila! (Some people like their red beans to be all mushy and sandy, where the red bean skin has separated from the interior. I like mine to be softened yet retain its bean form, as can be seen in the pictures.)

Sounds simple eh? It is as simple as it sounds! I have prepared this several times and brought a pot of it to a potluck on one ocassion. After sampling it, my friends gave the thumbs up.   

In the pictures, my red bean soup looks very watery. This is because I ladled out a portion of it into a smaller pot. Towards the bottom of the pot, the consistency becomes thicker and paste-like. Be sure to give your red bean soup a good stir become you ladle it out into a bowl. I am quite a fan of red beans and love to have my red bean soup served chilled.

Red Bean Soup (recipe adapted from Delicious Nyonya Kueh & Desserts by Patricia Lee)
Serving size: 10 - 12 bowls
Texture and taste: Soupy and murky with the goodness of adzuki beans with a hint of citrus.
Equipment and materials:
1) A large pot
2) Ladle

500g dried adzuki/red beans (1 packet)
8g dried orange peel, finely chopped (obtain from chinese medicinal halls)
7-8 pandan leaves (screwpine leaves), washed and tied into a knot
2.3 litres of water
200 - 240g rock sugar to taste

Cooking the red bean soup:
Soak the beans: Rinse the dried beans well. Soak them in water for 2 hours or overnight. Discard the water.

Boiling the soup: Place the beans with the chopped orange peel and pandan leaves in a pot filled with 2.3 litres of water. Bring the water to a simmer and cover 3/4 of the surface of the pot with a lid. Let the mixture simmer until the beans are softened. Start checking on the softness of the beans after 45 minutes and every 20 minutes afterwards (It takes a very long time to soften the beans. I did'nt really take note of the time. 45 minutes is probably not enough but will be a good time to start checking). It can take up to 2 hours or even longer to reach the desired softness, depending on the strength of the boil.

After boiling the mixture for some time, a portion of the water would have evaporated. Add in water to bring it to the original level.

Adding sugar: When the beans have softened to your liking, add in the rock sugar to taste, stirring until they have dissolved. turn off the flame and serve the dessert warm. Remove and discard the pandan leaves.

1) Lily buds and lotus seeds go along quite with this dessert, as suggested by my friend Pei-Lin.
2) I prefer to use rock sugar for red bean soup as it brings a different kind of sweetness to it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Crumbly and Chewy - Craneberry bites

Even though I have not baked anything this week, I had the pleasure of savouring these little mouth-size craneberry bites, all thanks to my baking friend Stephanie =]

As you can see, the cookies were very nicely cut out, something I dread doing when it comes to making cookies. Cookies certainly are easy to bake as compared to other baked goods. But when it comes to shaping them, it can be a headache sometimes, especially when the dough is too soft to handle.

In this sunny island where I reside in, it is summer all year round and the daily temperature hovers between 23 to 32 degrees C. The solution? Repeat the chilling process of the cookie dough each time shapes are cut out and the scraps are gathered.

In total, there were not one, not two, but three different lovely cookie shapes - stars, bears (look like bears to me) and flowers.   

A quick bite into these fascinating treats will reveal an unmistakenable crumbly yet chewy texture. Hmmm.... crumbly and chewy at the same time? Yes, these cookies are chewy too. Chewy simple because of the dried craneberry, offering a contrast in texture and a breakaway from the monotony of the buttery fragrance.   

The cookies did not have a chance to lie around for long. Before I knew it, the cookie jar was empty. My younger brother sure hows to appreciate his cookies.

Once again, thank you Stephanie, for these wonderful treats!

I will be making my mooncakes over the weekends. Stay tuned for updates on them....

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Truth about Scones and Biscuits

Cream Scones have constantly been on my never ending to-bake-list. My first encounter with scones was when I was working part-time as a waiter at a local hotel located at Boat Quay. There were leftover scones after a morning seminar and I took a bite into one, curious to know what scones taste like; something I have never heard of prior to that.

Talking about Scones, I had an arguement with Pei-Lin over it. Well, to be exact, it was'nt really an arguement, it was more like an exchange of ideas. One thing for sure was, we did not fight tooth and nail over it. Afterall, it was just...... scones.

In the American context, Scones are often sweet and served with jam or butter. Biscuits,which are rather similar to scones, are often savoury and are served with gravvy. So, what exactly is the difference between Scones and Biscuits? From what I gathered, Biscuits are just unsweetened versions of Scones and savoury ingredients like cheddar cheese and chives are often added.

When it come to Scones and Biscuits, the rest of the world may not share the same perception as the Americans. In some countries, or according to some people, there is hardly any distinction between Scones and Biscuits. In fact, both of them are known collectively as Scones. Some books even state explicictly that Scones and Biscuits are the same thing. Many a times, I have came across scone recipes in books and other resources whereby the taste is savoury in nature. Strictly speaking, such recipes should be referred to as recipes for Biscuits.

For people who have never heard about Scones, Biscuits would mean a totally different thing. In some parts of the world, Cookies and Biscuits are used interchangeably. In fact, that is what I often associate Biscuits with - Cookies. 

I think thats enough of the discussion with regard to Scones and Biscuits. After going through an almost bakeless week, my library book - The Art & Soul of Baking, was beckoning to me. So there it goes, my first attempt on Scones - Cream Scones.

My scones are lightly browned as I omitted the egg wash (see notes). Initially, I was a little apprehensive about the amount of liquid. However, the recipe turned out really well, producing scones that are crisp and crumbly on the exterior, yet moist, buttery and fluffy on the inside, even though they did not rise much. That was probably due to the overnight chilling of the dough. They were so good that I could eat them on their own without any jam. I am really glad about my discovery of these cream scones.

Happy Homebaker has provided many useful tips on scone making and detailed instructions on her blog. So do drop by and take a look at her lovely scones.

Cream Scones ( recipe adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet)
Serving size: about 16-18 scones
Texture: Crisp and crumbly on the oustide; ultra light,fluffy (almost cake-like) and moist in the exterior, very much similar to the crumbs of a ultra light cake. Taste is buttery and mildly sweet.
Equipment and Materials:
1) Measuring spoon set
2) Flour sift
3) 1 1/12 inch round cookie cutter
4) Mixing bowl
5) Parchment/baking paper
6) Wire rack
7) Weighing scale
8) Wire whisk
9) Flexible spatula

260g plain flour
55g castor sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
120g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
230ml whipping cream, chilled

Making the scones:
Combine dry ingredients: Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add in the sugar and salt. Use a wire whisk to aerate and disperse the mixture evenly.

Blend in butter: Tip in the cubed butter into the flour mixture. Use your hands and rub the chilled butter into the dry ingredients. The result should be that of fine and coarse flour-coated butter crumbs. Work fast to prevent the butter from melting.

Alternatively, use a pastry cutter or 2 knifes to cut the butter. If using 2 knifes, cut the butter into the flour mixture in a criss cross manner.

A food processor can also be used if you have one. If using a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients together for about 15 seconds. Add in the cubed butter and pulse a few times with 1 second intervals until fine and coarse flour-coated butter crumbs are obtained.

Adding the cream: Pour in the cream into the flour-coated butter crumbs. Use a fork and stir to obtain a moist sticky mixture.

Shaping and chilling dough: Lightly flour a work surface. Turn out the moist sticky mixture onto the work surface and gently gather the mixture together, pressing in stray dry ingredients into the main dough. There is no need to knead the dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and flatten it to obtain a disk 1 inch in height. Chill in the refrigerator or freeze till it is very firm. Dough must be very firm else it will be difficult to work with.

Prepraring the oven: Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 210 degrees C (recipe asked for 220 degrees C).

Cutting out rounds: Once chilled, turn the flattened disk out onto a floured work surface and cut out rounds using a round cookie cutter dusted with flour. Arrange the cut out rounds 1 inch apart on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Gather the remaining scraps, flatten them into a disk 1 inch in height and repeat the chilling process. Repeat the cutting of rounds for a second time.

Gather the final remaining scraps after the 2nd cutting and flatten them into a round disk 1 inch in height, for a final time. Cut the disk into 8 wedges.

Chill all the cut out rounds and wedges for another 20minutes. If the dough is too soft, it will lose its shape in the oven. (That happened to my 2nd batch of scones, they spreaded sideways slightly.)

Baking the scones: Bake the scones for 14 -16 minutes or untill the surface is golden brown. Remove to cool on a wire rack.

1) These Scones taste best when served warm.
2) The taste is rich and buttery that it can be eaten by itself.
3) Dough can be prepared beforehand and chilled overnight (one night maximum) or frozen for weeks. The dough may not rise as much as when it is freshly made on the same day.
4) Store remaining scones in an airtight container. Warm them in a toaster or oven before serving.
5) To make Biscuits, omit the sugar and proceed as mentioned above.
6) I omitted the egg wash as it took longer to brown the scones. If you like, brush some egg wash over the scones and sprinkle a little sugar over each scone. Bake until the top is golden brown. Alternatively, brush some cream or milk over the top of each scone and bake till brown.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Baking with Bakertan - Going Bananas Over Chocolate

Good day folks! Thank you for tuning in to Baking with Bakertan =]. Today, Bakertan is going to bake a Banana Chocolate Cake.

First of all, we need some bananas. Make sure you are using overripe bananas. Notice the black spots on the bananas? This is an indication that the bananas are starting to over-ripen. Overripe bananas are sweeter and have a much stronger flavour. I am using Del Monte since they are easily available from supermarkets.

Next, we need to line the loaf tin. Cut out a rectangular piece of baking/parchment paper such that the width of the paper fits the length of the loaf pan. The length of the paper has to be long enough so that there will be excess paper jutting out when pressed to fit into the tin.

Remove the paper and oil the loaf tin lightly either with softened/melted butter or vegetable oil. Press the paper back into the tin so that it adheres itself nicely.

Meanwhile, sift the self-raising flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. Use a wire whisk to mix the dry ingredients, ensuring that they are uniformly distributed.

At the same time, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Fill a saucer with water and place the heatproof bowl over the saucer so that the bowl is sitting on the saucer without coming in contact with the water. This setup is known as a double boiler. (Oops! Bakertan forgot to take pictures on melting chocolate). Bring the water in the saucer to a low simmer (low heat please) and melt the chocolates, stiring the chocolate occasionally. Leave the melted chocolate to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Tip the softened butter and caster sugar into a mixing bowl. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, as explained in How to Cream Butter. Once the butter is well creamed, add the eggs one by one and continue beating on medium low speed, ensuring that each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Notice that the colour of the egg-butter mixture (picture on right) has a slight yellowish hue compared to the off-white colour of the creamed butter (picture on left).

In a medium bowl, mash the overripe bananas using a potato masher until you get banana puree. Alternative, you can do it using the back of two forks.

Add the mashed bananas/banana puree to the egg-butter mixture in 3 additions and beat on low speed until well-combined. The mixture may curdle/separate when the banana puree is added (The curdling may cause the banana loaf to become dense, but it is perfectly alright. It still taste great). This is normal and will be alright when the flour is added in.  

To complete the batter, sift the flour mixture into the banana-egg-butter mixture in two batches. Beat the batter on medium-low speed to incorporate the flour. After the first batch of flour is absorbed, give it a further beating of 10 seconds and sift in the second batch. Once the second batch of flour is absorbed, scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl to incorporate loose flour. Beat the batter for 20 seconds to obtain a smooth batter.

Now that the batter is done, we need to do the layering. First, scoop 1/4 of the cake batter into the loaf tin and level the surface.  

Use a spoon and drizzle 1/3 of the melted chocolate randomly or evenly (your choice) over the cake batter.

Scoop another 1/4 of the cake batter to cover the melted chocolate. Repeat the layering of cake batter alternating with melted chocolate until all the cake batter and melted chocolate are used up. The batter should fill up to 4/5 the height of the tin.  

Place the loaf tin onto a baking tray and place them in the oven, to catch any overflow of batter if any. (just in case) Bake the cake at 180 degrees C for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Start checking for doneness after 1 hour by inserting a wooden/metal skewer into the centre of the cake. It should come oout clean when the cake is done (it is ok to have some crumbs sticking to the skewer, but not wet uncooked batter). The top skin should be nicely browned after 1 hour. Place a piece of aluminium foil over the loaf tin to prevent the surface from over-browning and continue baking until the cake is done.

Tada....A nice chocolate banana cake is done! Allow the cake to cool in the loaf tin for 15 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Sit back and enjoy your banana chocolate cake with a nice cup of tea. Thats all for today folks! Cya and stay tuned to Baking with Bakertan.


While the cake was baking, the smell permeated the entire house. I can swear those walking past the common corridor can sniff it. This happens when you make a banana cake. Free aroma therapy while waiting for the cake to be done.

I have lost count of the number of times I have used this recipe. By far, this is my best attempt, probably because I increased the proportion of bananas. It worked brilliantly as the banana flavour had a strong presence without being overtaken by the taste of the rich melted dark chocolate. While this version of the banana chocolate cake is more banana-ish, there is the other version which is more chocolatey in nature. One such recipe is the Cocoa Banana Bread (if my memory served me correctly; I do not own a copy of the book) in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yourswhich baking enthusiasts should be familiar with. A similar chocolate banana cake can be found from Jess Kitchen.


Banana Chocolate Cake (Recipe adapted Chocolate: 70 of the Best Recipes by Hamlyn)
Serving size: 10 slices
Texture: Moist, moderately dense with a prominent banana fragrance layered with rich semisweet chocolate with the consistency of a good chocolate frosting.
Equipment and Materials:
1) Stand electric beater/ handheld electric beater or wooden spoon
2) Measuring spoon set
3) Spatula
4) Mixing bowls (one of which is heatproof)
5) Wire rack
6) 9 x 5 inch loaf tin
7) Flour sieve
8) Parchment/baking paper
9) Brush for oiling pan
10) Weighing scale

Cake Batter:
190g unsalted butter, softened
285 - 300g mashed bananas ( 2 1/2 overripe bananas)
160g castor sugar
150g eggs (about 3 55g eggs)
240g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
175g chocolate, melted (55-60% cocoa)

Making the banana chocolate cake:
Follow instructions as above.

1) Take care not to overheat the chocolate, it will cause the chocolate to 'burn'/become dry/ thicken and become lumpy .
2) Do not allow any water/moisture/steam to come into contact with the melted chocolate. It will cause the chocolate to seize/become grainy.
3) Reduce bananas to 230g for a more buttery cake. The baking time will be reduced as a result of the lesser amount of liquid).

Bakes from A New Friend - Muffins

Remember I mentioned a blog visitor of mine who emailed me in my french apple tart post? My new found friend, Stephanie, kindly passed me some homemade muffins the day before. The muffins were very nicely wrapped up in see-through plastic wrappers sealed with thin golden foil strips. I was touched by her efforts and sincerity. In return, I passed her some banana chocolate cakes I have made that day, which however, was contained in a non-fancy plastic food saver obtained from SKP.

Naturally, the muffins became my choice of breakfast the next day. In case you are wondering, the muffins I received are Chocolate Matcha and Vanilla Cranberry. These tiny cakelets are lovely - soft,  fluffy and slightly moist, not a tad oily and with the right level of sweetness. The vanilla cranberry muffins had a nice buttery aroma and the cranberries were juicy to the bite, making me wonder if they were dried fruits or the real McCoy. I love how the matcha and chocolate flavours combined to give a grassy, rich bodied cocoa taste. This unique combo definitely hit the right notes for me.

Stephanie, if you should start blogging about your bakes, these cakey muffins definitely deserved to be featured at the earliest opportunity. Thank you for these mouth-watering treats, my friend =]
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